Four ways tech is revolutionising community services

Studying at the University of Melbourne can help aspiring community workers stay abreast of the latest industry advancements.

Technological and research innovations are propelling the community services industry forward, connecting more people than ever with support systems.

“The reality is that we are seeing a shift in our society with people accessing online services,” says Dr Ralph Hampson, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Melbourne. “I don't think we've yet grasped all the things we'll be able to do with these new platforms that are available to us, which are stable, cheap and reliable.”

Staying abreast of new policy, research and technology is vital to beginning or progressing a community services career, and the University of Melbourne equips graduates with up-to-the-minute knowledge and skills for a rapidly evolving industry. These four innovations are dramatically changing the face of community services in Australia, from social work to youth mental health support.

Headspace

“There has been a big innovation in terms early intervention,” says Dr Paul Badcock, senior lecturer at the Centre for Youth Mental Health. “The national rollout of headspace has set the benchmark for a national response to the youth mental health crisis.” Founded in 206, headspace helps young people strengthen their abilities to manage their own mental health, with a focus on early intervention. It now operates over 100 support centres nationwide, as well as the confidential, free and secure web portal eheadspace, where a young person can call, web chat or email with a qualified youth mental health professional anytime.

Ask Izzy

The Ask Izzy Open Data Platform uses location-based data to provide insights into the supply and demand of services across Australia, such as housing and healthcare. Using datasets from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, this one-stop-shop platform gives organisations a comprehensive view of the types of support needed in particular areas, and the reasons for those needs. This is the first platform in Australia freely providing such data, and it has the potential to impact how policymakers and service providers allocate resources.

Artificial intelligence-powered legal advice tools

Automated Legal Advice Tools (ALATs) are set to make waves in community services and legal assistance, increasing efficiency and reducing costs for those in need. According to a University of Melbourne study, this sector is seeing an uptake in ALATs to help disadvantaged or remote clients in a higher volume, narrowing the gap in access to justice. These are emerging as standalone technologies like legal chatbots, apps and virtual assistants, and enablers of legal advice like automated drafting, legal document review and algorithms.

Mental health support via social media

Before social media, organisations like Beyond Blue and Lifeline manned the fort offering mental health support 24/7 – all anyone had to do is pick up the phone to speak to a counsellor. Those services continue, but now that support has spread and diversified online. Thousands of grassroots support Facebook groups have emerged ­– some public, others moderated by counsellors. The Anxiety Disorders Association of Victoria (ADAVIC), for example, was founded in 1994, but now reaches over 250,000 people on Facebook, sharing information and connecting many who may otherwise feel isolated. Social media not only provides more support than ever, it’s also adding more employment and volunteer opportunities.

Postgraduate courses, such as the University of Melbourne's programs in Youth Mental Health or Advanced Social Work, can help community service professionals stay on top of these kinds of advancements – to ensure they are providing the best, evidence-based care.

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